Det. Clifford Lent has been a member of the Suffolk County Police Department for 24 years, but it was only about four years ago that he began running scenarios with his wife and children on how to escape an active shooter.
He told this to a group of about 50 people gathered in Babylon Town Hall on a recent weekday evening as he gave a presentation he had shown many times before: strategies to survive an active shooter.
There have been more than 280 active shooter incidents in the United States to date since 2000, according to the FBI, and Lent was hosting his last three-hour presentation before retiring.
“This information is sobering,” he said. “It’s a dark topic, it can induce stress.”
The session showed footage from real incidents, including the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and more than 800 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. A woman who was left a quadriplegic in the shooting died on Friday in California, according to several media reports that cited the San Bernardino County coroner.
“I don’t want to fill you with dread,” Lent told attendees. “We want to give you good information … This is not going away.”
The day after Lent’s final presentation, a 16-year-old student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, shot and killed two students, injured three more and then shot himself. He died later of his injuries.
Lent, stationed in the police headquarters in Yaphank, was tasked with creating the video four years ago to answer the question, “What do I, the unarmed individual, do?”
The answer: Have a plan and act on it.
When Lent and his family are in a public space, they discuss where exits are, he said, adding that he noticed people often stay in place instead of putting distance between themselves and the shooter.
“We watch on film, crowds staying and staying and staying … for periods of time that seem insane,” he said. “We wait until the whirlwind is right there and as soon as we know what’s going on and we see the effects of it, now it’s a panic and we gave away precious time.”
Don’t wait for others to leave or to be told to leave, Lent said, and if an alarm goes off, head for the exits you've already mapped out.
If it is a shooter and you can’t get out, get in a room, close, lock and barricade the door with as many objects as possible, and silence phones, Lent said.
Patricia Taggart of Babylon, a nursery school director, said the session “reinforces the emergency policies that we have in our school” and serves as a good reminder to lock classroom doors.
Taggart said she is among the people who no longer believe it can’t happen here.
“I think we’re over that,” she said.
18 DEADLY YEARS
Number of people killed and wounded in 277 shootings from 2000-2018 (figure does not include the shooters)
Number of people killed in the incidents
Number of people injured in the incidents
Percentage of active shooter incidents carried out by a single gunman
Percentage of shootings that end before police arrive
Percentage of shootings that are over in 5 minutes or less
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation